Chicago’s Chance the Rapper recently released his second mixtape, “Acid Rap”. He recorded much of it while on LSD, and it shows. While many of the tracks lack lyrical focus, they make up for it with fluid, RnB-tinged production. I recommend downloading the entire mixtape for free here, but I’d like to focus on one song in particular. The highlight of the album is the hidden track after “Pusha Man”, called “Paranoia”.
You’ve probably heard about the proliferation of violence lately in Chicago. The statistics are devastating: 535 homicides in 2012. 2,670 shootings. While visiting Chicago in April, First Lady Michelle Obama highlighted the story of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student who was shot in the back and killed while playing with friends in the park. What you probably haven’t heard, though, are the voices of those who live with the violence everyday. Despite a few noteworthy exceptions, the news coverage has overwhelmingly failed to shine any light on the humanity of inner-city Chicago. Perhaps you’ve heard one of the many “trap” musicians who have been signed recently out of Chicago, but rappers like Chief Keef use their questionable-at-best skills to promote violence, rather than challenge or question it. Indeed, much has been written about the link between the for-profit prison industry and the sudden explosion of such artists. Rapper Homeboy Sandman’s seething take can be read here, in which he argues that “[t]he people who own the media are the same people who own private prisons . . . and using one to promote the other [would be] very lucrative.” Ultimately, most Americans who know anything about inner-city Chicago have learned it from one of two sources: violent images and lyrics in music videos, or routine, emotionless headlines on the evening news.
That’s where Chance the Rapper comes in. At first, “Paranoia” sounds like a nice blunted-out ride through Chicago. But Chance is at his deepest on this track, reflecting on the psychological effects of growing up in a dangerous environment as he dreams of someday leaving for a “safer ‘hood”. The slow, tiring beat, along with the uninspired delivery of the hook, give the song an achingly vacant, discouraged quality.
Chance is angry, too, gritting his teeth as he laments that “they murder kids here”. He sounds on edge as he wonders why Matt Lauer hasn’t visited his neighborhood, before hopelessly admitting that he, too, lives in fear of his surroundings.
While many of us are relieved to finally see some nice weather, when Chance raps that “it just got warm out”, it serves as a warning, not a celebration. At the end of the song, Chance bemoans that “everybody dies in the summer, so pray to God for a little more spring”. Within the context of the more playful mixtape, “Paranoia” is a brief reminder that there are actual people living in war-torn Chicago.